Ratto: Sharks' Grind (Molars Included) Begins


Ratto: Sharks' Grind (Molars Included) Begins


The San Jose Sharks are not, by and large, long on surprises. They are who they are, they do what they do. The roster is fairly static, the regular seasons look a lot like each other, and to their tooth-grinding frustration, so do the postseasons.

Ad so it almost is with this edition as well. The goalie turnover from Evgeni Nabokov to The Fightin Ants (-ti Niemi and tero Niittymaki) is interesting, the fight to see who can be the blue line power play specialist in the absence of Rob Blake has its intrigues, and Manny Malhotras departure puts a good deal of pressure on Logan Couture to stand up to full height.

But most of the what the Sharks were is the same . . . with the notable and surprise exception of Joe Thornton, Team Captain.

Thornton got the extra letter on his sweater today, as reported by Comrade Brazil, and for those who believe that being the captain has great import, this is a bit of a jaw-dropper. Thornton is not by nature the guy who grabs the flag and says, Follow me, lads, nor is he known for his inspiring oratory inside the room when things get a little sluggardly.

But there he is anyway, expanding his presence, either because he was the best candidate for the job or because he was the best candidate once Dan Boyle turned the job down, as has been rumored. Either way, this is at least superficially a broadening of the Jumbonian presence in a room has always seemed to function well enough without a demonstrative captain.

Now that, if youre looking for a surprise, is pretty much as good as its going to get.

The rest of the Sharks place in the universe will largely be defined not by their own work, though, but by the shifting sands around them.

Barring significant and persistent injuries, which they havent really been confronted with the last few seasons, they will be at or near the top of the Western Conference race. Patrick Marleau will alternately madden and enchant. Thornton will please and disgruntle. Boyle will ignite and frustrate. Joe Pavelski will be the guy who dominated the early playoff rounds and also the guy who couldnt find his pace in the Chicago series.

In all, they will be about what they usually are, give or take a guy.

But Chicago has been undercut by cap gambles that paid off in a Stanley Cup and were punished with post-parade turmoil. Detroit showed age that needs dealing with internally. Vancouver reloaded after running out of players in the playoffs. Colorado, Los Angeles and Phoenix are supposed to be on the come, Calgary, Nashville and St. Louis are supposed to be on the go.

And somewhere out of that morass will come the team that San Jose has to beat to finally achieve the unachievable June hockey.

Last year, it was Chicago. Before that, Detroit. And sometimes the Sharks didnt even get that far, which is how they came to be known as The Little Engine That Couldnt. Indeed, so few people fancied their chances last year because they were perceived to be who they usually are, the team that finesses its way right onto the golf course.

Instead, they got to the conference final before receiving their just desserts from the mega-loaded Blackhawks. And now, there seems to be a void at the top that they are capable of filling as much as anyone else.

But they need the Fightin Ants to be Nabokov 2.0. They need Couture to break out, and Pavelski to consolidate his gains, and Marleau to be the Marleau of the Chicago series, meshing effort and results. And finally, they need Joe Thornton of all people to rise to whatever it is new captains rise to. The void of Blake is a hard one to quantify, and Thornton does better when you look at his numbers than at his room-filling presence. He likes not to be separated from his teammates by reputation or salary comps, one of the reasons they like him as much as they do.

But he does have to figure out how to make his captaincy work for them, or at least not cause them to shrink. This will be delicate work, and it starts now. It would have started earlier, but the Sharks didnt feel like they needed a designated locker room foreman in the room during training camp; otherwise, they would have named Thornton at the beginning of the process.

The proof of this, and all the other tweaks, starts now in Stockholm in a building that looks like the top half of a football helmet against a team (Columbus) that has barely been on their radar. As always, the season really starts in April, but the grinding begins now.

Including the tooth-grinding.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.